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´╗┐Title: Spacewrecked on Venus
Author: Jones, Neil R.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Spacewrecked on Venus" ***

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                       Spacewrecked on Venus

                         By NEIL R. JONES

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from Wonder Stories
Quarterly Winter 1932. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Illustration: A beam of electricity leaped from the ship. Instantly
shafts of light spread from the nearest projectile to the ones on either
side of it.]

       *       *       *       *       *

                           NEIL R. JONES

    [Illustration]

    Interplanetary commerce, if and when it begins, will be fraught with
    all of the dangers that accompany pioneering expeditions. There will
    be the terrible climatic conditions on other worlds to be faced,
    strange beasts and plants; and perhaps desperate and greedy men.
    That was the case when every new land was opened on earth and it may
    be expected to be true when we conquer the solar planets.

    Mr. Jones understands these things well. His vivid imagination, his
    sense of a good story and his knowledge of what may be expected upon
    other worlds combine to make this a novel and exciting yarn. And, as
    is always desired, it comes to a smashing finish with a surprising
    ending.

    His scientific weapons are quite novel, but so realistically does he
    portray them, that they strike one as being quite possible and
    likely to be used at some future time.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stood looking from the space ship into the dense fog banks which
rolled about us. We were descending through the dense cloud blanket of
Venus. How near we actually were to the ground I did not know. Nothing
but an unbroken white haze spread mistily, everywhere I looked.

With jarring suddenness, a terrific shudder throbbed the length of the
_C-49_, rattling the loose articles on the desk nearby. The dictatyper,
with which I had lately been composing a letter, crashed violently to
the floor. I reeled unsteadily to the door. It was nearly flung open in
my face.

"Hantel!"

Captain Cragley steadied himself on the threshold of my room. The
captain and I had become intimate friends during the trip from the
earth. In his eyes I saw concern.

"What's wrong?" I queried.

"Don't know yet! Come--get out of there, man! We may have to use the
emergency cylinder!"

I followed Cragley. The crew, numbering seven, were gathered in the
observation chamber. Most of the passengers were there too.

The _C-49_ carried twelve passengers, all men, to the Deliphon
settlement of Venus. In the earlier days of space travel, few women
dared the trip across space.

Several of the crew worked feverishly at the controls above the
instrument board.

"What's our altitude?" demanded Cragley.

"Fifteen thousand feet!" was the prompt reply. "Our drop is better than
a hundred feet a second!"

Worried wrinkles creased the kindly old face of Captain Cragley. He
debated the issue not one moment.

"Into the emergency cylinder--everybody!"

Herding the passengers ahead of them, Cragley's men entered a
compartment shaped like a long tube, ending in a nose point. When we
were buckled into a spiral of seats threading the cylinder, Cragley
pulled the release lever. Instantly, the cylinder shot free of the
doomed _C-49_. For a moment we dropped at a swifter pace than the
abandoned ship. After that, our speed of descent was noticeably
decreased.

Peering at the proximity detector, Cragley announced that we were quite
safe from a collision. The _C-49_ was far below us and dropping fast.

"No danger now," he assured the passengers. "We'll come down like a
feather. Then all we have to do is radio Deliphon to send out a ship for
us."

Cragley was equal to the situation. In this year of 2342, when the days
of pioneer space flying were commencing to fade into history, it
required capable men to cope with interplanetary flight. If Cragley
brought his crew and passengers safely through this adversity and also
salvaged the valuable cargo of the _C-49_, it was another feather in his
cap.

Quentin, second to Cragley in command, labored over the sending
apparatus. Quentin looked up at his superior officer with an uneasy
expression. The captain was quick to sense trouble.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't like the looks of this," was Quentin's reply. "The sender
refuses to function properly. I can do nothing with it."

Cragley's face bore a troubled look. He stepped to the side of his
subordinate for a hasty inspection of the radio sender.

"The receiver plate doesn't light up, either," said Quentin. "Looks to
me as though someone has been tampering with this."

In their spiral of seats, the passengers looked silently and gravely
upon the cylinder base where Cragley and his staff were gathered over
the apparatus. A dull glow of cloudy light coming in through the
transparent interstices of the descending cylinder softened and
counteracted the glow of the radium lights. An intangible feeling of
depression hung in the air.

"Elevation, five hundred feet!" announced one of the crew from his
position at the altitude dial.

"Make a landing," ordered Cragley. "We can't be very far from where the
_C-49_ fell. If there's enough of the ship left, we may be able to
discover the cause of this accident."

Down through the lush vegetation, the cylinder felt its way, dropping
very slowly. Finally it came to rest on a knoll.

"How far are we from the ship?" queried the captain.

"About seventeen hundred feet south of it, I'd say."

"We'll go outside and get organized. We've got to get that platinum
shipment off the _C-49_ and get into communication with headquarters at
Deliphon somehow. The proximity detector tells us we're over two
hundred miles from there."

One of the passengers spoke up with a suggestion. "Can't we go the rest
of the way in this? You can send back for what's left of the ship. I've
an important reason for arriving in Deliphon quickly. If--"

"Not a chance," cut in Cragley, both amused and annoyed. "The cylinder
wouldn't take us anywhere. All the cylinder is good for is an emergency
descent. It has no driving power."

       *       *       *       *       *

Preparations were made for a trip to the wrecked space ship.

"Might I go with you and the men, Captain?" I ventured.

"Sure, Hantel, come along! I'll have to leave part of the crew here with
the passengers and the cylinder, so I'm glad to have a few volunteers."

"Count on me, then," another of the passengers spoke up.

I recognized him as Chris Brady. He was a man about my own age, possibly
younger, perhaps in his late twenties. Brady and I had become friends
during the trip, having spent many hours together. This was my second
trip to the clouded planet. Brady had made many trips to Venus, spending
considerable time among the colonies. I had learned much about the man
which had interested me.

Our party consisted of Cragley, Brady, three of the crew, four other
passengers and myself. Well armed, we set out through the yellow jungle
in search of the remains of the _C-49_. Quentin insisted that it was not
far away according to the proximity detector which was especially
attuned to the bulk and metal composition of the space ship.

Progress was difficult in spots, and we found it necessary to hack our
way through lush growths of vegetation, taking numerous detours around
interlaced verdure. We were out of sight of the cylinder almost
immediately.

One of the passengers who had volunteered to accompany us complained at
the prospects of becoming lost. Cragley calmed the man's anxiety with a
brief explanation of the directometer he carried. It was an elaborate
perfection of the old compass. On a square plate, our position was
always designated in relation to the _C-49_. By telescopic condensation
of the field, Cragley was capable of bringing Deliphon on the
instrument. It was well over two hundred miles beyond us.

"If Quentin doesn't have that televisor fixed by the time we get back,
we are in a jam."

"There's the ship!"

We looked where the pointing arm of Brady designated. The wrecked space
ship lay imbedded in the murky waters of a swamp, fully one-third of its
bulk out of sight. Above, the torn and tangled mass of vegetation bore
witness to the rapid descent of the craft. Mighty branches were torn
away from giant trees. The ship itself was enwrapped by interlaced
creepers which it had ripped loose from the upper foliage.

We waded through warm, stagnant water which teemed with marine life. We
were halfway to the side of the _C-49_ when a cry from behind startled
me into action. I turned and stared into the gaping jaws of a terrifying
serpent wriggling through the shallow water on many legs. Several
electric pistols flashed almost simultaneously. The loathesome monster
turned belly up, floating dead upon the surface of the swamp water.

From then on, we advanced more cautiously. Coming alongside the crushed
hull of the interplanetary liner, we made an inspection of its position.
The space ship lay nearly right side up, the decks slanting a bit
sharply to one side. Upon the outer deck of the _C-49_, Cragley
scratched his head and looked the situation over.

"Not so bad as I'd feared," was his comment. "Wouldn't be much else but
junk here if it hadn't been for the jungle breaking the fall." Cragley
pointed upward to the strong barrier of interlaced foliage. "I hope to
discover just why it was we fell."

"Wasn't there an explosion?" I inquired. "There was a great shock just
before you opened the door to my stateroom. For a moment I thought we'd
struck the planet."

"Yes--there was an explosion," Cragley replied, a bit reluctant to voice
the admission. "It occurred somewhere in the mechanism operating our
radium repellors. That's why the ship started falling. Its weight was
left partly free against the gravity of Venus. We had to leave so
quickly there was no time for inspection."

One by one, we descended into the wrecked _C-49_. In that part of the
ship which lay lowest below water level, tiny streams of dirty water
trickled between wrenched plates, forming pools of water which rose
slowly about us. Cragley and his men inspected the radium repellors.
They whispered strangely among themselves. A steely glint shone
resolutely in Captain Cragley's eyes.

"There's deviltry been done here," he stated fiercely. "The _C-49_ was
deliberately wrecked by someone on board!"

Heavy silence followed his words. One of the crew returned from the
vault room. He announced to the captain that the _C-49's_ shipment of
platinum was intact as they had left it. Captain Cragley turned the
matter over in his mind. He was an astute man. Having smelled out a
conspiracy, he was planning the best way he knew to thwart it. The
platinum itself presented an obvious motive. Finally he spoke.

"You passengers are to go up into the observation room and wait for us.
Under no condition are you to leave the room and wander about the ship."

Captain Cragley's orders were obeyed to the letter.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the observation chamber, Brady asked my opinion of the discovery
Captain Cragley had made. "What's up, anyways?"

I shook my head. Brady was plainly nervous. Others of the passengers who
had accompanied us shared his apprehension. Fully a half hour had passed
and still Cragley and his men put in no appearance. Outside, myriads of
life flew, crawled and swam about the damaged craft.

Presently, Cragley and his three men emerged from the lower levels of
the _C-49_. They presented an uncouth spectacle bedraggled as they were
with grime and dirty water. In their arms they carried many small boxes.
Though small, each box was extremely heavy, being loaded with a fortune
in platinum bars.

"We'll return to the cylinder," said Cragley. "There's important work to
be done."

Once more we trudged back through the swamp and jungle, following the
trail we had made. Several times, huge shadowy forms flapped on the wing
overhead, but there was no attack. Back at the cylinder, Captain Cragley
ordered every man out into the open. He drew their attention.

"There's serious business here," he said slowly, his eyes darting from
face to face. "I want the man, or men who wrecked the _C-49_!"

The captain snapped out the final words. Surprise, terror and alarm
registered among the passengers, but Cragley evidently saw no admissions
of guilt.

"The man who is responsible for our present condition owns this!"
exclaimed Cragley suddenly. From behind him where he had been concealing
it, he drew forth a square box studded with knobs and dials. "I know
which one of you owns this. It was found hidden in his room by one of my
men."

Again Cragley watched for a betraying face. At the time, I doubted
Cragley's statement that he knew who owned the box. If he knew, I asked
myself, why was it he did not come right out and make an accusation with
whatever evidence he held? But that was not Cragley's way.

"We've also uncovered his two accomplices," continued the captain in
cool, level tones. "There is proof which points definitely to them."

He paused. No one spoke. The silence of death had descended upon the
entire group. For a moment my scalp prickled from the high tension of
nerves which hung over this episode. Cragley's burning eyes made every
man of us a criminal.

"The penalty for this offense is--death!" Cragley hurled out the final
word with dramatic suddenness.

There was a stealthy movement among those who stood near the cylinder.

"Drop it!" snapped Quentin. "Or I'll bore you!"

One of the passengers, Davy by name, dropped an electric pistol and
raised his hands.

"Raynor!" thundered Cragley, pointing a denunciatory finger at another
of the space ship's passengers. "Let's have an end to this shamming!
Step out there with Davy! Give up your weapons!"

With the attitude of a fatalist, Raynor stepped forward, allowing
Quentin to disarm him.

"And now for the owner of this little box," said Cragley, a cryptic
promise in his tones. "This radio-electrifier excited an electric
explosion of static in the radium repellors. The reason, I suppose, was
prompted by designs on the shipment of platinum. Will the owner of this
ingenious little invention step up--or do I have to call his name?"

No one moved.

"Just as I thought, Brady, you have the nerve to bluff this thing out to
the finish!"

The face of Chris Brady grew pale. He appeared stunned. Those nearest
him stepped back in surprise. Davy and Raynor were the only ones who did
not seem taken aback by the revelation.

"But I've never seen that thing before," Brady protested. "Why, I----"

"Not a chance of wiggling your way out of this, Brady! We've got the
goods on you sure enough! Will you kindly explain how you intended
making a getaway with the platinum?"

"I'm innocent!" exclaimed Brady heatedly. "I don't know these men!"

"This contrivance was found hidden in your room, Brady! Communications
between you and these men were also found!"

Chris Brady fell silent. The evidence was overwhelming. Cragley turned
to the other culprits.

"Have either of you protests to make?"

"We know when we're caught," growled Raynor, shooting a swift glance at
Brady. "You've got the goods on us. We're not squawking."

"You were taking orders from this man?" the captain inquired, pointing
at Brady.

Both Davy and Raynor replied in the affirmative, adding further proof
against Brady.

"Known him very long?"

"Don't know him at all," replied Raynor, "only that he's the boss."

"We've been taking orders from him since we left the earth,"
supplemented Davy. "He had us kill the radio equipment a little while
before he set off the explosion."

"And how did you expect to get away with the platinum?"

"He's the only one of us who knows," replied Davy, nodding his head at
Brady.

"Brady, I suppose there'll be another ship along pretty soon--some of
your friends from Deliphon. Now I see it all. Well, they won't find us,
that's all. We won't be here."

"I've no idea that...."

"Pretty thorough, weren't you?" snapped Cragley. "But you slipped up a
few notches! Thought there wouldn't be much left of the ship! Too
careless, Brady! You three men are sentenced to death!"

"A trial!" screamed Brady. "We're entitled to a trial!"

"Not under the new interplanetary laws! This is far worse than mutiny,
and you're on Venus now! You've had your trial!"



CHAPTER II


Grim retribution overhung the condemned men. It promised swift justice.
Captain Cragley was the law. He dealt out the penalty according to the
code governing interplanetary navigation.

"We must get away from this vicinity in a hurry!" he informed Quentin.
"You can bet your last coin there'll be a ship around pretty soon to
pick up the platinum and these three men! If there's a battle, we
haven't a chance in our present condition!"

"Where'll we go?" asked Quentin. "Somewhere and hide?"

"We'll head for Deliphon. It's a long, hard tramp, but it's our only
chance. Get things ready to leave. Pack everything we'll want to take
with us. Just before we start, we'll have this execution over with."

Quentin immediately apprised the crew and passengers of the _C-49_ of
Captain Cragley's intentions. He stated the fact that brigands were
expected shortly, telling of what they would do to luckless passengers
who fell into their hands. A second expedition was sent to the _C-49_
for food stores and various articles it was deemed necessary to carry
along on the march.

With the usual brief ceremony required in such proceedings, Brady, Davy
and Raynor were lined up before a shallow grave which had hastily been
dug for them. Five of the crew stood at attention, electric guns half
raised. Cragley, in a crisp, steady voice, gave the orders. The three
men, white of face, stared fascinated at their executioners--into the
face of death.

"Ready!"

The men of the _C-49_ tensed themselves. Brady no longer expostulated on
his pleas of innocence. He faced his fate like a man.

"Aim!"

The pistols were raised. Five left eyes closed. Sights were drawn. The
interval preceding the fatal word seemed endless. At the last moment, it
was apparent that Brady was unequal to the strain. He closed his eyes.
His body swayed.

"Fire!"

Five blue streaks shot noiselessly from the weapons. The three men
stiffened and fell--into the cavity dug for them. Their lives had been
forfeited for their crimes. Dirt was shoveled upon them. No longer
would fliers of the space lanes fear them. But there were other outlaws.

Captain Cragley, his crew of six, and nine passengers, set out in the
direction of Deliphon. The trip promised to be perilous and fraught with
danger, as well as grueling and full of hardships. Though I had been to
Venus once before, I knew little of the yellow jungles. My time on the
clouded world had been spent in the colonies.

Our first day of tramping took us through lush jungles and dismal
swamps. The ground was fairly level. Occasionally we came to rough,
rocky outcrops which protruded above ground. These we invariably
circled. Several times we found it necessary to ford rivers and skirt
lakes. Our progress was very slow. Quentin prophesied we would be on the
march for fully twenty rotations of Venus unless we struck the
comparatively clear country which Cragley was sure existed between us
and Deliphon.

Fearsome beasts menaced us at all times. We were ever on our guard, and
they usually fell electrocuted before completing their charges among us.
Even so, we experienced many narrow escapes. Many of these monsters were
larger than the prehistoric dinosaurs which once roamed the earth. They
were difficult to kill, and it required the maximum voltage of our
electric guns to bring them down.

Clothes torn, bodies bruised and scratched, we presented a sorry
spectacle. Most of us felt the way we looked, but Cragley's unquenched
determination spurred us on toward Deliphon. He was anxious to put a
good distance between us and the abandoned cylinder. He feared the
brigands, friends of the three who had been executed. Though Brady had
not admitted the claim, the captain was certain a shipload of the
outlaws were scheduled to show up for the platinum and their comrades.

At night, a camp was set up. Cragley argued against lighting a campfire,
asserting that it would prove a magnet to the wandering brigands he
believed were in search of us. Quentin, employing smooth diplomacy, made
it clear to his superior officer that a campfire promised to safeguard
us from prowling beasts. Quentin cited the fact that it was a common
sight for a night cruiser of Venus to look down upon fully a dozen or
more campfires of the troglodytes.

       *       *       *       *       *

Guards were posted during the night. It was well. The fires held the
nocturnal creatures at bay. Whenever one of them did muster enough
courage to charge, it was revealed in the firelight and shot down.
Several times I awoke to see a bellowing monster crash in death at the
edge of our camp. Sleeping, we found was a fitful task. The first night
proved the worst.

Next morning, we plodded on again through the thick, yellow jungle. The
country became a bit hilly, yet none the less wooded. In the valleys
between, we often found swamps. While approaching one of these swamps,
we noticed a gray mist hanging over the stagnant pools. It appeared not
unlike the steaming vapors we had previously encountered. One of the
crew, plunging ahead of us to gauge the depth of the water and steer us
clear of treacherous, clinging mud, became enveloped in the mist. Almost
immediately his complexion turned black, and he fell strangling in
throes of death. Another of the crew ran forward to drag back his
comrade, but Captain Cragley warned him back.

"He's too far gone! There's nothing we can do for him!"

"What is it?"

"A poisonous swamp gas! There's enough poison in one breath to kill
twenty men!"

Instinctively, we recoiled from the milky haze.

"How are we to cross?" asked Quentin.

"Put on the space helmets!" ordered Cragley. "That stuff can't hurt you
unless you breathe it!"

To prove his words, Cragley donned his space helmet and advanced into
the mist. Looking back through the transparent facing of the helmet, he
beckoned to us. Previously, many of the passengers had rebelled against
Cragley's persistence that they carry the added weight of the space
helmets. It had seemed utterly useless. Now, as they moved unharmed
through the deadly fumes, they thanked his foresight.

We carried the dead body of the luckless man, who had saved us through
his unfortunate discovery, to the top of the next hill where burial was
made.

The second night, it came my turn to share guard duty with one of the
crew while the others slept. The fires were plentifully fueled with dry
branches and stalks. Fire material was piled in reserve. Grinstead, my
companion watcher, went his rounds while I attended the fire, keeping
the flames well supplied.

Protected by an embankment erected near a rocky ledge, the balance of
our party slept. My eyes fell upon the little mound of boxes which
contained the precious metal. Cragley and Quentin lay on each side of
the platinum shipment. Not since we had commenced, the march had they
let it out of their sight or reach.

"Hantel!" It was Grinstead's voice. "Come here a moment!"

Hastily I ran to his side. He was stooped over a mark on the ground far
to one side of our camp just within circle of the firelight. Mutely he
pointed to a footprint--the footprint of a six-toed man.

"Troglodytes!" I exclaimed.

Grinstead nodded. "Fresh, too! Think we'd better awaken Cragley?" he
asked. "These cave men don't seem bad when they're peaceful, but if they
get going--they're devils!"

I stared back into the alarmed eyes of Grinstead and pondered the
matter. I was about to voice an opinion, leaving it up to Grinstead to
do as he pleased, when a startled cry rang out from the direction of the
sleepers.

Instantly, everything was confusion and uproar. Sleek, naked bodies
prowling about our equipment flashed out of sight into the jungle. The
whole camp came awake, exclamations and profanity mingling with the
weird cries of the troglodytes. Recovering from my surprise, I fired a
shot at one of the rapidly disappearing cave men, but the flickering
firelight distorted my aim.

Then occurred the most amazing feature of the whole affair. A man, fully
dressed, ran out of sight with the troglodytes, melting into the shadows
of the surrounding jungle. Cragley ran up beside me and saw him too. He
was out of sight before either of us had a chance to fire. At first, I
had thought the man to be one of our party, but his flight with the cave
men disproved the assumption.

"Wonder what the idea is?" spluttered Cragley.

"Our equipment," said Quentin, pointing to the food stores and other
articles the cave men had hastily disarranged. "They came to steal!"

"But the man!" I insisted.

"A renegade!"

Cragley shook his head. "It's queer," he said. "I don't know what to
make of it."

       *       *       *       *       *

An examination of our equipment proved we had suffered few losses.
Several boxes of synthetic food were gone, and one of the crew had lost
his electric pistol. Aside from these thefts, nothing else appeared to
be missing. Cragley tripled the guards, and the rest went back to sleep
once more. Nothing else occurred during that night. I was unable to get
the fleeing renegade out of my mind. There was something familiar about
the figure as I had seen it revealed in the glare of the firelight just
before the savages disappeared in the jungle.

The thefts of the food and pistol were logical enough in view of the
fact that the troglodytes had stolen them, but, guided by the man, why
had they neglected stealing the platinum? Evidently, they were unaware
of its presence.

Murky morning suffused the perpetually clouded sky, and once more we
pushed on toward our goal, distant Deliphon--so near and yet so far.
Much to the relief of everyone, we came out of the jungle into a
comparatively open country. High grasses grew about us, but the going
was much easier than we had experienced while in the jungle. The land
before us was a bit rolling and hilly. Leafy copses dotted the landscape
as far as the eye might reach. In the open, the danger from lurking
beasts was at a minimum. Our hopes rose higher.

It was around noon when the space ship from the south cruised into view
above us. Cragley viewed it in consternation.

"The brigands! Now we're up against it!"

For a moment, pandemonium reigned among the frightened passengers. All
had plans, each one trying to put his own into force at once. Out of the
chaos, Captain Cragley gathered order.

"Head for the bushes!" he cried. "We're all armed! If they come too
close, let them have it!"

The assurance in Cragley's voice I knew was faked. Like him, I realized
the desperate odds which confronted us. The ship was high above. We had
plenty of time to scurry for cover before it dropped lower. Cragley and
Quentin arranged us to the best advantage, and we waited for the
initiative of the outlaws of Venus.

The ship descended several hundred feet away. Our retreat into the
bushes had been carefully watched. Several men left the craft and came
slowly, uncertainly, toward our position.

"Stop where you are!" snapped Cragley from his place of concealment.

"Come across wi' the metal!" shouted one of them in a high pitched
voice. "An' get outa there--or get riddled!"

Cragley's reply was a blue spurt from the muzzle of his pistol. The
distance was much too far for accurate firing, but the charge went
dangerously close. The outlaws immediately turned tail and ran for their
craft. We waited for their next act, knowing that the battle had only
commenced.

The space ship shot skyward, circling our wide clump of bushes. The
survivors of the _C-49_ tensed themselves for a destructive bombardment
from above. It did not come. Captain Cragley was plainly surprised. He
was aware that the outlaw ship carried instant death if they chose to
use it.

The craft hovered some two hundred feet above us. Cruising slowly in a
circle, it suddenly dropped four objects well outside our improvised
stronghold. The projectiles were shaped like torpedoes. The explosions
which were expected never came. The projectiles stood straight up from
the ground, their front ends imbedded deeply. It was all a strange
procedure. Cragley was nonplussed.

"They probably contain explosives," ventured Quentin, answering the
question he knew stood out in the captain's mind.

"I'm not so sure of that," said Cragley.

Meanwhile, I had been doing some rapid thinking. Anxiously, I watched
the ship above us, keeping myself partially screened from view of any
sniper who might be looking down. I turned to the captain, a wild plan
outlined in my mind.

"Let me go out there," I offered. "I can----"

"Not on your life!" he exclaimed, placing a restraining hand upon my
arm. "It's death to go out there!"

"It's death to remain," I assured him earnestly.

"But not definitely certain," he maintained. "For some reason or other
they're holding off from us. We have an advantage of some kind, but
damned if I know what it is."

"Look!" cried Quentin.

He pointed to three of the four projectiles which were visible from
where we lay. They were glowing strangely with intense light. A jagged
beam of electricity leaped out from the airship. Instantly iridescent
shafts of light spread from the nearest projectile to the ones on either
side of it. The shafts made a flashing display, crooked, forked and
darting.

"Lightning bolts!" exclaimed Cragley. "We're surrounded by a fence of
them!"

"Penned in--like rats in a trap!"

"What will they do now?"

"Hard to tell. Probably pick us off one by one at their leisure. They
seem to be going to a lot of unnecessary trouble for no reason at all."

Three sharp blasts of sound issued from the outlaw ship. A pause, and
then followed three more. I watched Cragley to see what action, if any,
he would take. He seemed undecided. I began to grow uneasy.

"Not a chance of breaking through that screen of electricity," said
Quentin. "They got us right where they want to keep us."

"But why?"

Quentin shook his head. "If it was just the platinum, they could destroy
every one of us, then come in here and take it."



CHAPTER III


Weird figures suddenly burst the walls of flaming death. They were
outlaws attired in strange accoutrements. A series of metal rings
surrounded them, connected to their bodies with spokes. The electrical
discharges darted all over the rings. As they came closer, we discovered
that they were not surrounded by separate rings but with a continuous
spiral which narrowed together at the top of the head. The other end
dragged on the ground.

"Electric resistors of some kind!" muttered Cragley whose face wore a
hopeless expression. "They walked right through those lightning bolts!"

Quentin aimed his pistol and fired at one of the slowly advancing
figures. The spiral glowed faintly. The outlaw continued his approach.

"There goes our last chance!" I cried. "We might just as well toss up
the sponge!"

Cragley was thinking fast. It was unlike him to give up without a fight.
But what was he to do when his weapons had been shorn of their force,
leaving him utterly helpless before the superior strength of the
brigands.

Several figures rushed from the bushes. They were panic-stricken
passengers. In alarm, despite the warning cry the captain hurled at
them, they rushed straight past the advancing figures with their
encumbering spirals. Frightened, bewildered, and hemmed in by the play
of lightning, they ran directly in the path of the electric fence. The
crackling bolts enfolded three of them before the fourth became startled
out of his madness, retreating from the flashing death.

One of the spiral clad figures turned and regarded the frightened man
for a moment. Raising his electric pistol, he fired, and the passenger
from the ill-fated _C-49_ joined his companions who had futilely rushed
the electric barrier.

A voice from the space ship of the brigands suddenly gave out an order.
The voice came from a speaker and was many times amplified.

"Crew and passengers of the _C-49_--come out in the open. Bring the
platinum with you. Keep away from the electric fence unless you wish to
die. Come out--or we shall come in and hunt you down."

The spiralled figures inside the fence had stopped at sound of the voice
and were waiting for us to comply with the order from the space ship.
More of the brigands in their electric resistors were advancing through
the lightning bolts which crackled noisily. The powerful voltage danced
and played upon the spirals, disappearing into the ground.

Cragley paused, undecided. Lines of broken resolve creased his face.
Previously, he had remained strong and stubborn in the face of
overwhelming adversity when chances were slim. There now remained not
even the slimmest of chances, and stubborn courage yielded to reason.

"I guess the game's up, Quentin." He turned to regard his under officer
in speculation.

Quentin waited for his captain's orders. Again came the voice from the
outlaw craft in its strident tones. They were tinged with a touch of
impatience.

"Show yourselves inside of one minute, or else be executed at once!
Unless----"

"Hold out!" cried a new voice from the speaker, breaking in upon the
first voice. "You have friends on----"

Then came sounds of scuffling. To our ears came imprecations and curses.

"Don't go out there!" warned the second voice in laboring gasps.
"Stay----"

With a sudden snap, the speaker was cut off. Nothing more was heard. For
a moment the lightning bolts comprising the electric fence flashed
out--then reappeared. A few seconds later they disappeared once more,
returning shortly to flicker in a peculiar manner.

It was evident that some sort of a struggle was taking place inside the
outlaw ship. The electric display crackled and sputtered louder than
ever. With a sudden, explosive thunder clap, the four terminal posts
blew to pieces.

The spiralled figures turned in alarm back toward their craft. One of
them, hovering close to our haven of retreat, did not follow his
comrades. Instead, he drew forth from a long side pocket a black object.
At first glance, it seemed shaped like a pistol. But it was much longer
and was proportioned differently.

He waited patiently until several more of the brigands had returned to
the ship. Raising the black weapon, he aimed carefully at his fellow
outlaws. The man's strange actions amazed me. He was turning upon his
own comrades. Several of the brigands fell backward off the deck of the
outlaw craft.

Cragley, beside me, was speechless in surprise at the rapid succession
of events. The outlaw's strange weapon which emitted no flash had us all
wondering. Later, we discovered that it was a radium gun, a new
instrument of destruction still in the experimental stage.

"Who is he?" voiced Cragley.

"Can't be the fellow we heard over the speaker," observed Quentin. "This
man came through the electric fence with the first ones."

"Somebody over there is pulling for us," insisted Cragley, "and the man
with the black gun must be a friend, too."

A flash darted out from the ship, hitting the spiralled figure operating
his mystifying weapon. The spiral glowed brilliantly. The man inside the
spiral remained unaffected, continuing to manipulate the knob of his
weapon. Something went wrong with it, for the outlaw who had so suddenly
turned against his friends tinkered with it a moment, then threw it from
him in disgust. Meanwhile, the brigands had massed inside the ship.

       *       *       *       *       *

With a loud crackling, the speaker's volume was thrown on again. An
alarmed voice vibrated in our ears. Above the words came a rattling and
banging--also the muffled sound of shouting men.

"Jasper! Come t' the control room! I'm locked in! They're bustin' down
the door! Bring that gun o' yours! Hurry, lad!"

Jasper looked upon his broken weapon, hesitated a moment, then picked it
up--butt foremost. Seizing it in cudgel fashion, he made for the ship.

"Come on!" roared Cragley exultantly. "Now's our chance!"

We found our numbers reduced to ten, but every one of us leaped forward
at Cragley's order, ready to stake everything on the one desperate,
fighting chance which had come so unexpectedly. We had nearly overtaken
the man we had heard addressed as Jasper when a crackling flame of
lightning leaped out at us. A hissing roar smote our ear drums and we
were temporarily dazzled by an intense light. The aim had been too high.
The electric charge had gone over our heads. The man in the control room
had frustrated the attempt to electrocute us.

Several of the brigands jumped out of the ship to meet us. They still
wore the encumbering spirals. A powerful gas of paralyzing effect was
shot into our faces. We became as immobile as statues. Jasper, too, was
overcome. Instantly, we were divested of our weapons.

The man locked in the control room of the ship had been taken. Whoever
these two men were who had championed our cause, their desperate efforts
had failed, and now we were all in the same boat. The one who had
addressed us over the speaker was led out of the ship and shoved into
our group beside his fellow traitor, Jasper. The latter's spiral was
promptly torn off.

As the outlaws passed among us, searching for concealed weapons, I felt
a cold object thrust cautiously into my hand. My heart thrilled to the
contact of a pistol. I held my hand close to my side that none might
see. The effects of the gas wore off quickly.

The chief of the brigands, his brutal face set in anger, strode up to
the pair who had turned against him during the stress of combat. His
dark eyes blazed, and he raised his clutching hands menacingly above the
two. Jasper and his friend stared back unabashed, a reckless glitter in
their eyes, ready for what might happen.

"I don't know who you are, but I've got suspicions!" snapped the outlaw.
"You'll both die horribly--the kind of death we reserve for such as
you!"

He turned upon Cragley. "Where's the platinum?" he demanded. "Is it over
there?" He pointed to the clump of bushes from which we had lately
emerged. "Or have you hidden it?"

"See for yourself!" snapped Cragley.

"When we find it, all tongues will be silenced," he remarked
significantly. "If it's hidden, we'll find it just the same. We know how
to make tongues wag."

It was a desperate situation. Cragley knew that the time of reckoning
had come. The platinum lay in an open space among the bushes where we
had taken our stand on seeing the approach of the outlaw ship. I fondled
the gun I held out of sight.

Leaving a large force of his men to guard us, the leader of the brigands
took the balance of his men and headed for the spot where Captain
Cragley had left the boxes of platinum.

"Well, Ben," observed Jasper, philosophically scratching his head, "we
did the best we could."

"Which weren't quite enough, Jasper, m'lad."

"Who are you two?" queried Cragley.

Each one looked at the other questioningly. For a moment neither spoke.
Then through a rough, unkempt beard, Ben grinned at his companion.

"Might as well tell 'im, Jasper. The game's up."

"We ain't outlaws, that's sure, though we might have made believe so,"
said Jasper. "He's Ben Cartley, the best pal a man ever had. I'm Jasper
Jezzan. We're from the Hayko Unit."

My mouth fell open in surprise. I nearly dropped the gun I had kept
concealed in a fold of my clothing. Everyone, at some time or another,
had heard of the famous Hayko Unit. The order, established since the
perfection of space flying, was comprised of men pledged to keep the
space lanes and colonies safe from the lawless element.

"We'll be in the death unit when Ledageree and his men come back,"
cracked Ben, chuckling at his own grim joke. "Did you plant the
platinum, or is it back there?"

"Back there," echoed Cragley dejectedly. "We haven't a chance. I thought
maybe we could make Deliphon with the stuff before these outlaws got
wise."

"We followed the trail easily from the air," remarked Cartley. "First,
we found the space ship and the cylinder. After that, we just watched
for the green campfire markers is all."

"Campfire markers?" questioned Cragley in excitement. "What do----"

"There comes Ledageree!" interrupted Jasper.

The brigand chieftain and his men were emerging from the bushes with the
little boxes stacked in their arms.

"We're sunk now!" exclaimed Quentin.

Impulsively, the captain took a step in the direction of the space ship.
One of the outlaws guarding us stepped forward before the captain,
bringing up his pistol. An evil light shone in his eyes, the fanatical
gleam of the confirmed killer. It was the man's intention to kill
Cragley where he stood.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the act was never consummated. A blank look overspread the outlaw's
face. His face held that strange expression which is so characteristic
of the electrocuted man. He tottered and fell face downward. Uttering a
cry of agony, another of the brigands fell, seizing frantically at a
shaft which protruded from his body, a shaft of crude hammered metal.

While we all stared in surprise at the fallen men, Jasper Jezzan, quick
to take stock of the situation, looked out over the high grass.

"Troglodytes!" he cried. "That's one o' their metal darts, Ben!"

Substantiating Jasper's discovery, there came a chorus of yells from all
sides. Heads came into sight above the tall grass. Darts flew thick and
fast, yet every one found its mark. The cave men of Venus brandished
their weapons preparatory to rushing in upon us in overwhelming numbers.

The outlaws blazed away at the savages, but the latter proved to be
difficult targets at which to aim. They were always on the move,
running, hiding, reappearing to launch their deadly darts from another
direction. Ledageree dropped his armful of the precious metal and
screamed an order.

"Into the ship!"

It was then that I noticed the curious fact that none of the passengers
or crew of the _C-49_ had been hit. The remaining outlaws attempted to
herd us into the ship. Their numbers rapidly diminished under the hail
of darts cast at them so accurately by the troglodytes. Many of the cave
men toppled over in death as the outlaws made a hit, but more came to
take the places of those fallen.

"There's the white man--the renegade!" shouted Quentin.

Indeed, it was so. The troglodytes were led by the man who had broken
into our camp on the previous night. Seizing a pistol from one of the
fallen brigands, Ben hastily pointed it at the yelling cave dwellers who
were running full force in our direction, the renegade at their head.

"No. Ben, no!" cried Jasper. "They're friends!"

"It's Brady!" shouted one of the passengers of the _C-49_. "Chris
Brady!"

"Impossible!" exclaimed Cragley. "He's dead!"

"You're wrong, Cragley!" said I, also recognizing the renegade. "That is
Brady!"

I heard a noise behind me. I turned and looked. Ledageree and two of his
surviving brigands were clambering aboard the space ship. The horde of
troglodytes were nearly upon us. In trepidation, I moved backward.
Ledageree had gained the deck and was running in the direction of the
air lock when Brady saw him, raising his pistol to fire.

From its concealment, I brought my gun into action. With hasty aim, I
pulled the trigger, cursing myself for a wide miss. I was a bundle of
nerves at the moment. Again I tried, this time drawing a fine bead.
Chris Brady was clearly outlined beyond the sights of my pistol.

A split second before I squeezed the trigger, Jasper Jezzan seized my
arm. The flash of power shot harmlessly into the sky. Fiercely, I
battled with the Hayko man, raising my pistol to brain him. But Cartley
was upon me, and I went down under their combined weight. Something hit
my head. Blackness engulfed me.

When I regained consciousness, I was aware of the babble of voices. My
head throbbed and swam dizzily. A ring of troglodytes encircled me. I
heard Chris Brady talking. Had he come back to life in some miraculous
manner? I had seen him shot and buried. His words penetrated my dazed
senses.

"When I saw that everything was stacked against me with no chances of
proving my innocence, I tried an old trick, Cragley. I was afraid you'd
get wise to me, but you didn't. I fell a split second before your men
fired. I watched your lips for my signal. None of the shots touched me.
I played dead and was buried in the shallow grave. When you went, I dug
myself out. I came pretty near smothering."

"We buried you alive!"

"You did, and I'm thankful I was alive--and still am."

"But the troglodytes?"

"My friends," replied Brady. "I've been among them a great deal during
my life upon Venus. I know their language and customs. They look up to
me and obey my orders. We've been following you. The other night, we
broke into your camp and stole food and this pistol."

"Then you're not the outlaw we supposed you to be?" Cragley was amazed
beyond words. Apologies flooded to his lips and remained unspoken. What
apology could there be to this Innocent man he had all but sent to his
death?

"No--I'm not, but I knew there was no way of proving it to you," replied
Brady, "at least not until Deliphon was reached. With my friends, here,
I followed your trail. We heard the sounds of fighting far ahead. When
we found you attacked by outlaws, I knew it was my chance to save you
and prove myself."

"You have proved yourself!" exclaimed Cragley warmly. "But what about
Raynor and Davy?"

"They thought Brady was their leader they'd been told t' watch for!"
interrupted Jezzan spiritedly. "Plain as day, ain't it, Ben?" He turned
to his comrade for a confirmative nod. "There's your man!"

Jasper Jezzan pointed at me where I sat on the ground, collecting my
wits. I knew that I had been caught red handed. Denials were useless.

"Ern Hantel!" exclaimed Cragley in surprise. "He's the last man I'd
suspect!"

"Just the same, he's the man you thought Brady was," persisted my
prosecutor relentlessly. "He put green flares in your campfire ashes,
so's we could follow you."

"How did you men come to be with the outlaws?" asked Brady, a bit
confused by the surprising revelations he had heard.

"The authorities at Deliphon have suspected this gang for quite a
spell," replied Cartley. "Jasper and I joined 'em t' find out. We're
much obliged t' you and your cave men, Brady. You got us out of a tight
pinch."

Cragley confronted me. "What have you to say for yourself, Hantel?" he
asked grimly.

"They've got my number right," I grumbled, rubbing an aching head. "No
use bucking a Hayko man in a place like this." I nodded in the
direction of Jezzan and Cartley. "Ledageree was warned against
strangers."

"Then you admit Brady is innocent?" queried the captain, seeking the
confession which would irrevocably clear the accused man.

"Yes. He's innocent. Davy and Raynor never knew me. I sent my
instructions to them through Brady, leaving messages where they believed
he'd left them. When we left the earth, I recognized Davy and Raynor
right off. For secrecy's sake, they weren't supposed to talk with the
man they took orders from. I took advantage of this fact by placing my
article of identification in the possession of Brady."

"The brown collars you loaned me!" exclaimed Brady, realizing the mode
of his undoing.

"After I'd first stolen your collars and destroyed them," I added. "I
was afraid of something going wrong before Ledageree and his men picked
us up. I blew out the radium repellors of the _C-49_ and planted the
evidence in Brady's room. I knew if anything happened Raynor and Davy
would identify him as the man from whom they took instructions. That
left me a loophole."

"The case against you is completed, Hantel!" Cragley's face was stern
and set. "You're the one who's going to be shot this time, and there
won't be any chance of falling before my men fire, either!"

"Just a minute," interposed Jezzan, thrusting back the angry captain.
"We've got a say here. Headquarters wants this man. He's got more
information than he's given. There's some other affairs he can talk
about. He's going back with us."

Cragley didn't argue the matter. It was beyond his authority. Besides,
if I received my just dues, he cared little where I was executed.

They placed me under strong guard on the outlaw ship, and we flew back
to Deliphon. Knowing me for the clever, resourceful criminal which I
pride myself on being, Jezzan and Cartley personally conducted me to the
earth. There, I was given a brief examination.

At present, I find myself in the interplanetary penal colony of Phobos
where I am being held for reasons peculiar to the Hayko Unit. I expect
death most any day. In the meantime, I spend much of my numbered hours
gazing out of my prison into the realms of space. The rotating sphere of
Mars stands prominent against starlit skies. Occasionally, I see Phobos'
companion moon, Deimos. Beyond the transparent facing of my prison cell
stretches an airless void. There is but one escape. I await it, absorbed
in fatalistic reflection.


THE END





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